Interview with a Bookseller:
Conversation with Betsy Burton of The King’s English
Betsy Burton is the owner of The
King’s English, as well as one of the bookstore’s co-founders. She is also
on the board of
Salt Lake City Reads Together, a literacy
project designed to build community. In addition, she’s active in
organizing the Great Salt Lake Book Festival; this year she was a panelist.
Also, The King’s English supports the University of Utah’s Symposium on
Science & Literature. The King’s English
publishes the Inkslinger, a compendium of book reviews, interviews,
and other news about books, on a regular basis.
On the business front, Betsy Burton
is also a member and the chair of “Buy Local First, Utah” – a state-wide
business alliance focused on alliances of local businesses. She was named
Bookseller of the Year in 2001 by Mountains and Plains Booksellers
Association and Utah Woman Business Owner of the Year by the National
Association of Women Business Owners in 2004.
Betsy, can you tell me about your store?
Betsy: The King’s English
is a locally-owned independent book store that has
existed on the same site for almost 30 years. A general bookstore, we pride
ourselves on our fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, and children's books. On
the corner of 15th South and 15th East, we’re happy to be part of a thriving
neighborhood commercial area. (To visit the store’s website, go here: http://kingsenglish.booksense.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp
For more about the history of the
store – and plenty of information about independent bookselling – you can
read my book, The King’s English, Adventures of an Independent Bookseller.
What are recent trends in the publishing industry?
Betsy: One of the most troubling
new trends is that books are being sold in places besides bookstores and
on-line sites, such as Starbucks. There are differences in discount
schedules, which can hurt the competitiveness of the independents. Also,
some publishers are setting up their own Speakers’ Bureaus – more
competition with the booksellers, who have been the mainstay of organizing
On the other hand, there’s a new
trend in the communities to put more emphasis on buying locally – they’re
beginning to see that chains are hurting their communities and that big
discounts aren’t everything.
should an author or an aspiring writer approach a bookseller for either a
signing or for advice?
Betsy: It might be politic to get
to know your local bookseller. If you're a longtime customer, when you ask
for a signing or an event they'll probably bend over backwards for you. You
should also do what you can to get to know the publisher rep. Both the
booksellers and the reps can make a big difference to your sales.
Booksellers sometimes have a surprising amount of influence, and often know
editors and publishers.
Also, if you’re published and you
want to do a signing or some other event, send a copy of the book with
complete information. Include your contact information, the names and
contact information of local groups that would be interested in your book.
In other words, do a little marketing proposal.
What’s your opinion of POD books and self-publishing?
Betsy: Self-publishing doesn’t get
you very far. If you look, you realize that these books have made very
little inroads into market share.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Betsy: First, read! Never stop
reading. Some writers should ease up on going to writer’s workshops – some
manuscripts that I’ve seen are a little too labored. Get to know the people
at your local independent bookstore. Also, a job at a local bookstore is a
very good idea.
Betsy, thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and
experience! Also, if you want to learn more about what matters to
independent booksellers – a really good idea for anyone with a reason to
care about this industry – I heartily recommend Burton’s book, The King’s
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